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Pete and Deb Ochs

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This next month is FULL of events.

I have been asked to serve over this next year as a “mentor” in an “Accelerator” program for non-profit and for-profit promising entrepreneurs. Our first event is happening next week.

Early February, we are hosting a week with Pete and Deb Ochs—an amazing business couple from Wichita, KS.   God has both humbled and used this couple to build his kingdom in unique ways, including starting a successful business in a maximum security prison in the US while also discipling and investing in the inmate employees.  You can see their story here.

While here, Pete and Deb will be intersecting with the South African business community in many different venues/settings around personal humility and living His kingdom in business settings.  We will also be facilitating two Journeys of Generosity during that week.

The Lord recently reminded me that the next month has NOTHING to do with events but everything to do with Breakthroughs.

South Africa has been at a point of crisis, and other countries in Africa are as well.  There is such a profound need for the children of the King and citizens of His kingdom to rise up in this country and continent, and bring His kingdom in Africa as it is in heaven.

I ask you to pray with me for—TRANSFORMATIONAL BREAKTHROUGHS!!

Experience Africa 2015–a family reunion…

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A family reunion…that was the phrase used to describe the essence of our time together in South Africa on Experience Africa 2015.

If you had been eavesdropping, you would have heard laughter and tears around the meal tables, sharing of life experiences across generations, speaking of truth into each others lives/situations, the telling of some great romance stories, and the sharing of wisdom in business and ministry.

Twelve people of all different ages and countries…they had never met before, but they share a rich bond of faith in Jesus and similar places of life in business and ministry.  Together we experienced physical and spiritual adventures for 11 days in an unbelievably beautiful country.

It was delightful and refreshing in every way.

We spent time on the breathtaking coastline of Capetown and the surrounding areas in the beautiful southern region of South Africa.  We hiked in a rain forest, walked on top of Table mountain overlooking the tip of Africa, hiked sand dunes in the early morning, experienced a South African wine tasting, strolled the coastline, experienced a true South Africa brai, feasted like kings and queens, and received a ministry overview of Africa.

Josh Patty led us in studying and experiencing how to hear and discern God’s voice in the noise of life during our retreat time together.  Through the teaching and discussions we were challenged, encouraged and equipped for our different places of business and ministry.

After Capetown, we moved north for our safari in the African bush.  What an incredible worship experience seeing God’s creatures great and small!  There was really not an animal that we wanted to see that we didn’t get to see.  Even our guides were amazed.  What a gift!  The hours we spent together in the open air vehicles with our guide, driver and each other was full of joy, laughter and amazement.  During our safari time, we also were given a fascinating economic overview of Africa, sparking some  good discussion.

The staff in both locations where we stayed blessed us and were blessed by us in very significant ways.  Several times members of the staff approached me and asked, “Who are these people?  We have never had a group like this before.”  I think they saw Jesus in us.  We got to pray for some of them toward the end of our time in ways that I pray will impact them forever.

After the trip finished, one of our trip participants told me, “I actually cried when we left each other at the airport.  I knew we would have a good time, but I didn’t expect to make life-long friends.”  A portion of this South African “family” informed me that they are having a reunion this summer, and though I am going to miss it due to travel,  I love watching these relationships continue.

It was a sweet and blessed family reunion in South Africa where we all walked away richer…in relationships, in refreshment, in kingdom work, and in our walk with Jesus.  I’m so very grateful.

Planted for the Summer…

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It’s been a refreshing summer of being “planted” in one place–getting time with family and friends and staying put in the Midwest–at least most of the time.

I’ve gotten to be part of weddings, discipleship groups, a birth, a new dog, sickness, parties, grieving, birthdays, children’s ministry, and just…well, life in one place with its kaleidoscope of color, variety, pain and beauty. Here’s a pictorial “taste” of summer:

Though I have not been flying around the world, the world has flown to me, which I also love!  I’ve had the privilege of hosting ministry families from Germany, India, Romania and various other parts of the world and the US.

There have also been times of healing prayer with people this summer–for freedom, for growth, for breaking of generational and personal strongholds!  I have experienced firsthand Paul’s words that “Our weapons are not worldly but mighty through Christ, to the pulling down of strongholds.” Amazing!

I’m so thankful for our King and His kingdom and for the various ways that He calls me to serve.  He planned good works for me to do before the foundation of the world, and though I can’t really get my mind around that, I love being a part of His work.

Dancing On Ashes

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For any of you who have ever sat in a pit of darkness or despair, needing just a taste of faith or hope–a touch of Jesus, I write of my current journey for you…

A couple months ago, I had a “fire”–a time where something very precious and valuable was suddenly gone–burned up quickly and unexpectedly, taking my breath away.  It often still does.  This loss has shaken my core and my faith like nothing else ever has.

Since the “fire,” I’ve been sitting in ashes, trying to sort through remnants of things.  There are so many questions that have no answers.  I have cried out, sometimes hourly, asking the Lord to answer me, to rescue me, to fill me, to comfort me, to speak to me, and to hold me.  He has faithfully met me in so many different ways–friends/family, nature, His word, songs, notes–and yet, the questions have still plagued me.  I often smell like smoke, tasting the ashes along with the saltiness of many tears.

Recently, in a time of seeking Him with my sister, Jesus gave me a picture–an image in my mind…I was clothed in a white dress and I was sitting on a pile of ashes with a house burned down all around me.  Ashes…ashes everywhere.  As I lifted my face from sifting hopelessly through the ashes, I saw Jesus standing right in front of me with His hand outstretched.  He was asking me to dance…DANCE of all things.   Seriously??  Can He not see that things are a little messy right now…and dark…and hopeless and that the last thing I feel like doing is dancing??  He does see, and He’s still asking.  He wants me to dance…to dance on the ashes…with Him.

I cannot describe what the Lord did in my heart in that moment and the hope that flooded my soul…Immanuel.  He’s here.

He will not leave me here in the ashes.  He has a plan, and it includes DANCING!  There’s joy somewhere ahead.  I can’t quite see it yet, but it’s coming.  He says it is.  I just have to stand up, trust Him, take His hand and…dance.  What does that mean practically?  I don’t know exactly, but He’s teaching me.

As we started to dance, He picked up a handful of ashes and started to breathe on them, and when GOD breathes…there’s LIFE!!

My heart is different, even though my circumstances are not…yet.  Peace…Joy….

Following this picture, He brought the line of a song to my mind–“beauty will rise.”  Once I found it, I played the entire song, sobbing my way through.  I didn’t know the full lyrics to this song–only the one phrase that He had brought to my mind,   The words could not have been a more vivid portrayal of the picture He had just given:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJynET3b3PM
“Out of these ashes, beauty will rise and we will dance among the ruins and we will see him with our own eyes…”

I accept your outstretched hand, Jesus.  I choose faith.  I choose to dance with You among the ashes….Beauty will rise (Is 61:3).  You ARE the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)   Behold, You are making all things new (Rev. 21:5).  I believe, help me in my unbelief…

I’m still mid-journey at the moment, and though your journey may be very different from mine, how I pray that Jesus’ touch in my dark, lonely place, will multiply like loaves and fishes of faith and hope in the lives of some of you who may still be sitting in the midst of “ashes.” Others’ stories of faith are doing the same for me.

Experience Italy 2013…a week feasting at His table

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Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of leading a wonderful and unique group of 15 business/ministry leaders and spouses to Experience Italy 2013!!

The richness of that time–with the cultural sights and smells of Italy, the new relationships formed, the amazing Bible teaching on marriage,the time spent as couples, the specialty experiences and the wonderful meals eaten together is hard to capture in words. I would just say that our Father invited us to a feast at His table and we ATE ABUNDANTLY.

How grateful I am for the kingdom hearts of these dear people and the way that the Lord is using them in their different spheres of influence. I know, in comments from many of them, that there hearts were refreshed and renewed in different ways, and I pray that fruit from our time together will roll out 30,60 and 100 fold where they serve the King.

Rather than write alot about our time, I am going to let the pictures speak for themselves. Rejoice with me over our God’s faithfulness in our time together! Looking forward to the next one!

A Train Adventure…

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I have a fun story to share with you–A God appointed celebration on a train!

During my recent trip to Eastern Europe, I had to take a train from Slovenia to Czech. Trains always make me a bit nervous when I have luggage, especially if I have to change trains and heft luggage up and down stairs to make it to the next place! On this particular trip, I had one switch but I only had 6 minutes to make the switch! I really sense the presence of Jesus walking with me when I’m alone in these times, and I spend quite a bit of time talking to Him in the process! I usually ask Him if He has any “work” for me to do in these stressful traveling situations, and He often does.

I made the 6 minute switch successfully and got on the train I would now be on for a few hours. I originally settled in one compartment only to find out that there were reservations attached to that compartment that would soon be in effect. So, I chose to move to a different compartment that had no attached reservations– one with two ladies in it.

The conductor came and took our tickets and it quickly became evident that there was a problem between one of the ladies and the conductor. The altercation was all in German so I didn’t really comprehend what was happening, but I could understand the body language well enough to know that this woman was very upset.

After the conductor left I asked the woman in English what had happened, hoping she would understand me, and the distressed woman proceeded to tell me that the conductor had rejected a certain kind of discounted ticket she had purchased and was going to charge her twice the cost of the ticket to remain on the train. At that point I heard the drink cart coming down the hallway, and I burst out with, “You know what, let’s celebrate!!! It’s going to be a better day from here on out! I’m sure about that! Can I buy you both a cup of coffee or tea?”

As the ladies looked at me in some degree of shock, I told them both about my personal tradition of a cup of tea and some chocolate with Jesus every morning, and let them know that due to an early morning departure, I had not gotten to partake of that yet. I asked them if they would join me and offered to share my chocolate! Both ladies smiled and after getting our tea/coffee and chocolate, we settled into a great 4 hour conversation. I got to share my testimony with them as well as just talk about life–theirs and mine. One woman was Venezualan and married to an American working in Austria, and the other, who had the ticket problem, was Austrian but spoke English and was going to visit her husband who worked in Vienna.

In the middle of our conversation a very traditional older Austrian woman came into our compartment, complete with a dour face and babushka cap. All conversation in the compartment ceased momentarily. However, our wonderful conductor came around for round two, and now it was evident that the older Austrian woman also had a problem. Her problem was that she had gotten on a train that did not happen to stop at her destination, which was a local station. Now she would have to ride all the way to Vienna and then go back to her stop, which meant an extra hour or so in her journey. She was visibly distressed. Just then, guess what? I heard the drink cart coming….

and I said, “Let’s celebrate!! The day will only get better from here. Can I buy you a cup of coffee or tea?” The other two women started smiling and then translated for this Austrian woman, and we all had a delightful time drinking tea/coffee together, eating chocolate, and, though they didn’t know it for what it was, drinking from the Living Water!!

Our logo and His crown…

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In the forming of the idea and entity of En Gedi, I had the privilege of being in a discovery and branding process with my dear friends at Kumveka, an organization whose vision is to see clear and compelling communication for every Christ-focused ministry.  What a blessing they have been to me, En Gedi and so many others!!

In the midst of the brand development we spent many different times seeking the Lord for direction and future focus.  After going through two iterations of En Gedi logos, I needed to make a decision and was very torn between my own thoughts, people’s feedback and just the finality of the decision.  In the midst of my confusion, Lori, Kumveka’s project manager and also a friend, encouraged me to seek the Lord for His heart on the logo.

Though some may not think He cares about things like logos, I’m here to tell you that our God who counts every hair on my head and knows when a sparrow falls, had an opinion about En Gedi’s logo.

Almost before my knees hit the ground in my room, I clearly heard the words “laurel wreath,” which was a phrase I heard early on in the process but paid little attention.  Then I knew.  This–pictured below–was His logo choice.

This mark had huge significance to me personally as my name is Laurie, a derivative of “laurel,” which means “Queen of Victory.”  In that season of uncertainty the Lord repeatedly spoke His identity over me–I’m His daughter, His princess of Victory.

This image clearly symbolized our mission with shepherds and kings–the crown shape speaking to the royalty of kings and the leaves and the water indicating the care of a shepherd for his sheep.  The purple image of water in the middle of the mark pointed to His call for me/us–to be a source of Living Water for shepherds and kings.

The Lord highlighted the most profound aspect of the logo recently during a morning run.  He reminded me clearly that He ALONE does, and will, wear a crown forever.  Though many, if not all of us, will have some crowns to lay at His feet, there is ONE king and ONE crown in eternity.  It belongs to Him–alone.

It’s all about Him.  En Gedi is all about Him.  My life is all about Him.  This world is all about Him.  One King.  One Crown.

“At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

The ultimate message of the En Gedi logo as well as En Gedi itself is that this journey, and indeed all journeys, begin and end with Him. 

It always has been and it always will be, forever, all about Him.

Out of Africa…

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In August, I had the privilege of being in South Africa and Uganda to visit some wonderful people–a delight to say the least.  

The Lord had all kinds of things on the agenda for that time–everything from bowling to traversing rough Uganda roads, to sitting in on meetings/trainings, to doing science experiments with kids, to being treated to a wonderful coffee/dinner with a friend, to eating breakfast with an amazing couple at one of the most beautiful spots on earth, to receiving some beautiful handmade gifts, to driving through the African bush and eating “In your face chicken” (the westerners call a stand that sells chicken on a stick in Uganda “in your face chicken” because all of the sales people come up to the car with chicken on a stick and put in right up to your windows and your face trying to sell you on their tasty delights!!), to doing dishes, to singing on a veranda overlooking a lake, to visiting the pig farm, to watching The Army Ant March, to staying with dear friends from Indiana, to seeking the Lord in intense times of prayer.

 And…I got to watch a game of South African rugby, which is a one-of-a-kind cultural experience for those of you who have never sat with a group of South Africans and watched rugby.  Truly an experience in a league of its own.  If you watch the movie Invictus, it might give you some idea of what it’s like, but there’s nothing like tasting of it in person.  All of these adventures were accompanied by great conversations with amazing people.

I was in 11 beds in those 2 1/2 weeks and with 11 different sets of people (not including meeting people for short times)–some new friends and some longtime friends.  It was truly a rich time, filled with the presence and peace that only Jesus can bring.

Though there was dialogue along the way over many different leadership issues, discipleship desires, marriage/single challenges, family joys, and various other subject matters of all shapes and sizes, there is one subject that has been lingering with me and continues to grab my heart.

I was asked to facilitate a discussion with the J-life ministry team in South Africa about intimacy with God, sharing my own life journey in that arena.  As I was preparing for that time, the Lord impressed on my heart to look at the lives  of Moses, David and Abraham, all who were identified as having an inmate relationship with God.   As a result, it’s something I have been thinking about a lot–what characterizes the life of someone who has an intimate relationship with God?  Even though I thought alot about these three men on a high level before leaving for South Africa in preparation, I have now started looking at their lives in depth, asking the Lord to show me what He values in an intimate relationship.  It’s been an amazing and rich study–one that I’m still working on.

As I am sitting here now, think through each portion of my trip I have thought about ways the Lord revealed His heart and character to me along the way.  In Capetown, He showed me His character as provider/orchestrator, as He introduced me to two people who will most likely be very instrumental in upcoming En Gedi Experiences in Africa.  He also orchestrated a meeting with someone that I have been told at least 3 or 4 times in the States that I should meet, and this man “happened” to be speaking at one of the organizations that I went to visit.  We ended up on the plane together on the way back from Capetwon to Johannesburg and had an anointed conversation.  In Johannesburg, the Lord showed His generosity and lavish care through a family that just gives lavishly as they love on their visitors.  He showed His power as I watched a storm roll in over Lake Victoria and then again at New Hope in Uganda–thunder that shook the foundations of the earth!  He showed me His heart of mercy and compassion as He gave me deep emotion for two people that I met and talked with/prayed for, one who is fighting for his wife’s physical life and another who had lost her husband to a head on collision recently.   He showed me His grace as he spoke so clearly to someone who had feared not being able to hear His voice.

His body across the world reveals His character to us in amazing ways.  I am privileged to “taste and see” that He is good and that His love endures forever as I interacted with His bride in Africa!  Oh, how I love seeing His face in His people.

A True En Gedi Experience–it all ends with the Garden Tomb

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We just finished our first En Gedi Experience to Israel.  What an incredible journey!  If I could transport you for just a moment to sit at the back of our bus as we made our way through the sites, smells and sounds of Israel you would have been amazed along with me at the amount of laughter you heard, the vulnerability of sharing that took place, the transformation of lives we witnessed, the uniqueness of the experiences we had together, the beauty and excellence of the hotels and food we tasted, and the on-going fruit we are still experiencing from that time.  It was truly a one-of-a-kind experience that will never be forgotten by an of us.

From beginning to end, the Father showered His blessings on each of us, and our response was joy–lots of joy.  We started with watching a sunset together over the Mediterranean, and then proceeded on to Galilee where we walked the steps of Jesus and His disciples and experienced Mt. Carmel with Elijah.  We left Galilee to go to the region of John the Baptist, Abraham, and the temptation of Jesus in the desert, stopping at the Dead Sea and then we finished our time in and around Jerusalem where so much of our spiritual history began and will finish as Jesus comes back!

Some of the specific blessings we experienced were the two hour dinners each and every night with fun and stimulating conversation, the time of worship and Jewish dancing that we had together on a boat on the Sea of Galilee, the lunch we had with “Abraham” after riding camels to get there, the walk through water up to our knees in Hezekiah’s water tunnel in the dark, and our “float” in the Dead Sea finished by a spa treatment.  All of these unique adventures were experienced with an incredible sense of “family” in the sweetest sense of the word.

We had a guide and a bus driver that also became a part of our family and both were Jewish and are still searching to know Jesus as the true Messiah, which we talked about with them quite a bit.  They were both such a gift to us, and as we left them, we had a chance to pray over each of them and bless them, giving them gifts of appreciation and words of blessing.  During our last evening together as an En Gedi family, we shared what we had learned, and blessed each other in prayer, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room because we had grown to love each other in a way that is only explainable by the Spirit.  I had several people along the way ask me where I “got these people,” as it was such a delightful group to be with. Jesus said that “they will know you by your love for one another.”  That was so true of this special group of people.

Though all of those things were profoundly impacting, the most significant part of the trip was watching the transformation of our minds and hearts as we each encountered Jesus in different ways.  Whether through the incredible teaching of “When God came Near” from Dave Patty during our retreat time around the Sea of Galilee,  or through time with Steve who was a counselor that met with each of us, or through the times of reflection such as the one on the Mt. of Beatitudes in the early morning, or through fellowship over dinner, or in teaching times about Jesus as Dave taught us at significant sites along the way, or through unique experiences like the refreshment of En Gedi (a VERY special place to me) after hiking in the dry and barren land, the Lord spoke to each and every one of us in specific ways, transforming our hearts and lives to reflect His character and nature.  It was truly amazing.

We finished our time at the Garden Tomb, taking communion and celebrating a Messiah who IS NOT HERE but is risen!!  What an absolutely beautiful and appropriate way to finish our time together, and even there, among our group, our Jesus, the Risen Savior brought His resurrection power.  One of our En Gedi family needed to experience the freedom of forgiveness, and Jesus brought that freedom in those last moments as we shared in the “death and resurrection” of Christ at the Garden tomb.

It all ends there, really.  Anything of value was purchased in ultimate victory at that spot–forgiveness, life that’s truly life, intimacy with our Father, eternal riches and rewards, the righteousness of Christ, reconciled relationships with those we love, good gifts that we can freely enjoy, and His reign and final victory when this world as we know it is done.

Jesus rose as a victor at the Garden Tomb, and He will come back, riding on a white horse, claiming for His own all that He purchased that one glorious day.  As we entered the city of Jerusalem, Hana, our guide, played this song, and tears ran down several faces as we were reminded what awaits us someday in Jerusalem.  This is OUR future that was purchased at the Garden Tomb.  Rejoice with me that it all ends at the Garden Tomb if we know Jesus.  We are victorious, and we say “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

Then once again the scene was changed,
New earth there seemed to be.
I saw the Holy City
Beside the timeless sea.
The light of God was on its streets,
The gates were open wide;
And all who would might enter
And no one was denied.
No need of moon nor stars by night
Or sun to shine by day,
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away.
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
Sing for the night is o’er;
Hosanna in the highest,
Hosanna for ever more.
Hosanna in the highest,
Hosanna for ever more.

 

The colors of God…

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Have you ever thought about the COLOR that God has created?  Whether it’s in a sunrise, a people group, flowers or dyes of fabrics, His beauty and color assaults the senses at every turn.

A group of 13 of us just returned from the first En Gedi Experience in Israel, and though I often think of this land as being full of deserts and rocks and conflict,  together we experienced the truth of life and COLOR everywhere…vibrant, alive, and verdant beauty!  It’s hard to capture the benefit of that color to the soul (or at least my soul!  :-), but I felt like I tasted the full pallet of the beauty and diversity of God during our time in Israel.   As we saw the many places where Jesus walked, studied His character and heart during our teaching times, and built relationship with a wonderful group of His people, we tasted of the nature of our Father!

It leads me to worship.  I celebrate my Great God of beauty and color.  Though I could (and will eventually) talk about the incredibly sweet community we had together as His people, I really want to share the color and beauty that was all around us, and there’s no better way to do that than through pictures.  So, taste a bit of the feast that we were given by Him over the last couple weeks…

As I took in that visual feast and am now reflecting on it, I started thinking about daily life.  The color in these pictures came from a trip to another land–a special land specifically chosen by God.  It’s easy to think that the nature of God revealed through beauty and color in Israel is isolated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it’s His NATURE to create beauty and color.  According to Ephesians 2, just like with Israel, He has chosen my place in life for me before the foundations of the world.  As such, it also has to be full of beauty and color or it wouldn’t accurately reflect His nature.  No matter how barren things may seem, I know that He has provided beauty and color, as that is who He is, so I just need eyes to SEE it!  There seems to be more time and space to absorb special sights, sounds, tastes and scents on a trip than there is as I “run” through daily life.  I wonder if it makes Him sad, as He has created things for our enjoyment, and I often don’t have the time or eyes to see it.

I’m praying today that He “opens the eyes of my heart” to see Him–that I will “be still and know that He is God”–to see all the beauty and the color that He has created in my every day life–a cup of tea, spring trees, an airport lounge (today!! :-)), dear friends, a redeemed heart, a committed family, clean water, and many other things that I may not see as they are “normal.”  Oh, that I will SEE Him and worship, thanking Him for the many good gifts He puts right in front of me, as He promises that when I see Him I will become like Him.  I pray that for both you and for me today–to see Him, to worship and to become like Him–full of color and beauty, the WOW! kind of beauty and color that we saw in Israel.